Note: while I reference writers here, this applies to many other artists who produce projects that can be stored in a digital format (music, visual, film, etc).
The writer has a multitude of fears. For non-writers this statement may conjure a general list including failure, rejection, creative blocks, and not being taken seriously. While these may indeed cause some concern for a writer, they are nothing compared to the king of all fears, data loss. Some of us live blissfully in denial, unaware how terrifying it is, until we experience it.
The loss of stories, research, and supporting documentation comes in many forms, flood, fire, burglary, but the most common is a computer failure of some sort. The computer is an essential tool for most writers. Computers, like all machines, eventually wear out. Any machine can have a defective part, causing a malfunction at any point during use. If your machine is portable and travels with you, the risk of damage or theft increases. So where does that leave the writer when the parts go bad and the machine fails?
Your actions will determine if this is an inconvenience or Shakespearean-level tragedy.
Save early, save often; it’s a maxim that has stuck with us since the early days of personal computers. Often this means saving to the hard drive in case you lose power or the program experiences a random error. After all this time, autosave still kind of sucks. But just how reliable is that thing that makes all those whirring noises when you open and save files? Hard drives are a lot less touchy than they once were, but it’s still not a question of if your hard drive will fail, but a question of when.
Saving to the hard drive alone isn’t enough. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to back up your data, with network, USB drive, CD/DVD, and cloud being pretty popular. How often should we to time out of our writing schedules to make these important back ups? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? If not done often enough, you’ll lose some of your changes, or maybe your newest projects when your hard drive screeches to a halt. We each have to decide how much loss we can live with, and then pick a process we’ll actually follow through with. Having the plan and not using it will just make you hate yourself all the more when someone breaks into your house and takes your computer. Let’s try to avoid the self-loathing, shall we?
A historian friend of mine introduced me to the acronym LOCKSS – lots of copies keeps stuff safe. I’ve used this to develop my backup process. Every time I write, I back up my work on a USB drive that goes everywhere with me. I have an in-home network that I back up to as well, though not as frequently as I could, mostly because it’s currently a manual process. Periodically, I save to an external hard drive that I hand off to my parents, who live in a different city. In the last year, I started monthly backups to a cloud drive.
Remember, if your backup plan is too complex or too time consuming, you won’t actually do it. And if you don’t actually do it, we’re back to the self loathing.
Save early, save often, and find a back up method that meets your loss threshold and realistic willingness to put forth effort. When your hard drive makes clicking noises sounding like a very slow turn signal, I hope you can sigh with resignation instead of sobbing with despair. I’ve done both, and the one is infinitely preferred over the other.